Remarks to the media by the Secretary-General

Over the last weeks and days, there has been no significant change in the way the war has been unfolding in Gaza.

There is no effective protection of civilians.

Intense Israeli bombardment and ground operations continue. More than 20,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed, the vast majority women and children.

Meanwhile, Hamas and other Palestinian factions continue to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel.

Some 1.9 million people – 85 percent of Gaza’s population – have been forced from their homes.

The health system is on its knees. Hospitals in the south are dealing with at least three times their capacity. In the north, they are barely operational.

One colleague described the deathly silence of a hospital with no medication or treatment for its sick and injured patients.

According to the World Food Programme, widespread famine looms.

More than half a million people – a quarter of the population – are facing what experts classify as catastrophic levels of hunger.

Four out of five of the hungriest people anywhere in the world are in Gaza.

And clean water is at a trickle.

UNICEF found that displaced children in the south have access to just ten percent of the water they need.

In these desperate conditions, it is little wonder that many people cannot wait for humanitarian distributions and are grabbing whatever they can from aid trucks.

As I warned, public order is at risk of breaking down.

Humanitarian veterans who have served in war zones and disasters around the world – people who have seen everything – tell me they have seen nothing like what they see today in Gaza.

Israel began its military operation in response to the horrific terror attacks launched by Hamas on 7 October. Nothing can possibly justify those attacks, or the brutal abduction of some 250 hostages. I repeat my call for all remaining hostages to be released immediately and unconditionally.

And nothing can justify the continued firing of rockets from Gaza at civilian targets in Israel, or the use of civilians as human shields.

But at the same time, these violations of international humanitarian law can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people, and they do not free Israel from its own legal obligations under International Law.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Press,

Many people are measuring the effectiveness of the humanitarian operation in Gaza based on the number of trucks from the Egyptian Red Crescent, the UN and our partners that are allowed to unload aid across the border.

This is a mistake.

The real problem is that the way Israel is conducting this offensive is creating massive obstacles to the distribution of humanitarian aid inside Gaza.

An effective aid operation in Gaza requires security; staff who can work in safety; logistical capacity; and the resumption of commercial activity.

These four elements do not exist.

First, security.

We are providing aid in a war zone.

The intense Israeli bombardment and active combat in densely populated urban areas throughout Gaza threaten the lives of civilians and humanitarian aid workers alike.

We waited 71 days for Israel finally to allow aid to enter Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing.

The crossing was then hit while aid trucks were in the area.

Second, the humanitarian operation requires staff who can live and work in safety.

136 of our colleagues in Gaza have been killed in 75 days – something we have never seen in the history of the United Nations.

Nowhere is safe in Gaza.

I honour the women and men who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and I pay tribute to the thousands of humanitarian aid workers who are risking their health and lives in Gaza, even as I speak.

Most of our staff have been forced from their homes. All of them spend hours each day simply struggling to survive and support their families.

It is a miracle that they have been able to continue working under these conditions.

And yet, those same colleagues are expanding humanitarian operations in southern Gaza to support people living there, while trying to assist the flood of displaced people who arrived from the north – with nothing.

They are currently providing aid in Rafah, western Khan Younis, Deir El Balah and Nuseirat in the south, and doing their best to reach the north despite huge challenges, namely security.

In these appalling conditions, they can only meet a fraction of the needs.

Third, logistics.

Every truck that arrives at Kerem Shalom and Rafah must be unloaded, and its cargo re-loaded for distribution across Gaza. We ourselves have a limited and insufficient number of trucks available for this.

Many of our vehicles and trucks were destroyed or left behind following our forced, hurried evacuation from the north, but the Israeli authorities have not allowed any additional trucks to operate in Gaza. This is massively hampering the aid operation.

Delivering in the north is extremely dangerous due to active conflict, unexploded ordnance, and heavily damaged roads.

Everywhere, frequent communications blackouts make it virtually impossible to coordinate the distribution of aid, and to let people know how to access it.

Fourth and finally, the resumption of commercial activities is essential.

Shelves are empty; wallets are empty; stomachs are empty. Just one bakery is operating in the whole of Gaza.

I urge the Israeli authorities to lift restrictions on commercial activity immediately.

We are ready to scale up our cash grant support to vulnerable families – the most effective form of humanitarian aid. But in Gaza, there is very little to buy.

Ladies and gentlemen of the media,

In the circumstances I have just described, a humanitarian ceasefire is the only way to begin to meet the desperate needs of people in Gaza and end their ongoing nightmare.

I hope that today’s Security Council Resolution may help this finally to happen but much more is needed immediately.

Looking at the longer-term, I am extremely disappointed by comments from senior Israeli officials that put the two-state solution into question.

As difficult as it might appear today, the two-state solution, in line with UN resolutions, international law and previous agreements, is the only path to sustainable peace.

Any suggestion otherwise denies human rights, dignity and hope to the Palestinian people, fueling rage that reverberates far beyond Gaza.

It also denies a safe future for Israel.

The spillover is already happening.

The occupied West Bank is at boiling point.

Daily exchanges of fire across the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel pose a grave risk to regional stability.

Attacks and threats to shipping on the Red Sea by the Houthis in Yemen are impacting shipping with the potential to affect global supply chains.

Beyond the immediate region, the conflict is polarizing communities, feeding hate speech and fueling extremism.

All this poses a significant and growing threat to global peace and security.

As the conflict intensifies and the horror grows, we will continue to do our part.

We will not give up.

But at the same time, it is imperative that the international community speak with one voice: for peace, for the protection of civilians, for an end to suffering, and for a commitment to the two-state solution – backed with action.

Thank you.

New York, 22 December 2023